Handling the Pain of Grief

This week our guest blogger talks about handling grief’s pain. As a hospice chaplain, he regularly deals with those who have lost a loved one. He’s seen first hand how the pain of grief affects them and is well qualified to give us some words of wisdom on dealing with loss. ~ Charity Gallardo, Blog Coordinator

210060_3399“This hurts,” Sandy whispered, her face hidden in her hands.

Sandy had just lost her mother. She knew it was coming. She’d known for months. She was well prepared.

“I know,” I said. “I’m sorry.”

With that, she let loose and wept, clutching a dishcloth, the last thing her mother knitted before her fingers lost their coordination.

She rocked back and forth, weeping.

“It hurts!” she wailed.

I remember when my dad passed. I was in shock. Yes, I cried, but it took a while for the pain to catch up to me. When it did, I could hardly breathe. My world, as I knew it, had changed forever.

Whatever our loss, it hurts. Someone precious has been taken away. Someone we love is gone. Things will never be the same, and our “new normal” isn’t something we wanted or asked for.

At first, I looked for my dad everywhere. Many times I thought I could hear him the kitchen. Every evening I would walk through the apartment door and yell, “Dad, I’m home,” only to be greeted by the still silence of my new reality. It seemed like I bumped into pain and grief at every turn.

When I began to know and accept that life wasn’t the same, and was never going to be the same, I began to heal. This takes time. How much? The answer to that is as individual as we are.

Things are different now, and it doesn’t feel good. It hurts. It hurts badly.

If we allow ourselves to feel the pain, it frees us to move through it. If we try to avoid it, the buried hurt festers. It will surface again, most likely in unwelcome ways that damage our health and relationships. The only way past the pain is through it.

“It hurts!”

It does. It should.

I know it doesn’t feel like it sometimes, but you can get through this in a healthy way that honors the memory of your loved one. Your task is not to move on without them, but to move on with them in a new way.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAHere are some things to consider when the grief pains hit:

Take a deep breath and feel the grief. Resist stuffing it or running from it. If you need to excuse yourself and go somewhere private, do it. You may need to cry, wail, or even scream. That’s okay. Take care of yourself by feeling what’s real.

Do something to honor your loved one today. Tell them you love them. Write them a letter. Set up an empty chair and talk to them. Give a gift in their memory. Share a story or memory with a friend or acquaintance.

Find something in the present to be thankful for. Things may be dark and heavy, but practicing thanksgiving can help bring perspective to your heart. Try beginning and ending each day by thinking of three things you’re thankful for. Over time, the discipline of thanksgiving can bring much healing and comfort.

Yes, it hurts. The pain can be dull and heavy, or sharp and intense. You will make it through this. Life will be different, but it can still be good.

Gary Roe has experienced a number of losses over the years and currently works as a writer, speaker, and chaplain with Hospice Brazos Valley. He is the author of Saying Goodbye: Facing the Loss of a Loved One and Surviving the Holidays Without You. He also writes inspirational articles based on the stories of hospice patients for several newspapers. Visit him at www.garyroe.com.

Photos courtesy of Free Images, badgerl and vxdigital.

Remembering Victims of Crime

Willows portraitRecently, Chaplain Brad Stetson, who often conducts services at Fairhaven, gave a speech to the Greater Orange County Chapter of Parents of Murdered Children. Brad shared the speech with us so that we could share it with all of you. Death comes in many forms and therefore so does grief.  Losing a loved one traumatically through an accident or as a victim of a crime can leave family members experiencing additional feelings of anger and frustration. Working one’s way through grief can be difficult at the best of times but when your loved one is taken from your violently, it can add many other layers of emotion to that grief and loss, making it even more difficult to cope. We hope Brad’s words bring some comfort to those who have experienced this very difficult situation. ~ Charity Gallardo, Blog Coordinator

National Day of Remembrance for Murder Victims
Greater Orange County Chapter of Parents of Murdered Children
September 25, 2014, Memory Garden Memorial Park, Brea, CA

In 2007 the United States Congress passed resolutions establishing this day each year, September 25, as the National Day of Remembrance for Murder Victims. As are you, I’m glad they did it, but as with you, I ask, “What took them so long to do it?”

Well, the answer to that question is more complicated than the usual reasons we hear for the fumblings of politicians. It’s the M word. Murder. People are afraid to say it, people are afraid to talk about it, and people are afraid it will happen to someone they love. For everybody knows, deep down, that it’s the worst thing that could happen to their child or brother or mother or sister or father or any other loved one; and they also know that having a loved one murdered is the worst thing that could happen to them. And they shudder and recoil at the thought of what that murder would do to them. They know, dimly and just by intuition, what you have come to know in brutal, harsh reality: each murder does not end one life, it ends many lives. It changes everything.

Whether the murder of your loved one happened 30 years ago, 20 years ago, 10, five, one or even just a few months ago, you know that you have been changed, and the person you were the day before the murder is gone, completely gone. The fact you—-and so many members of your family and the way you interact with them—-changed on that dreaded day is just one part of what makes murder the most evil act and the worst sin a human being can do, the most heinous crime.

Dr. Wanda Bincer who’s adult daughter was murdered, writes of her experience at realizing every parent’s worst nightmare:

“I was thrust into the world of senseless violence, grief and anguish with the sudden news of the murder of my oldest child and only daughter. It began with utter shock and disbelief and a slim hope that a mistake had been made. The shock and disbelief still catch me at times, even though four years have passed. And of course a terrible mistake was made; some cruel and misguided man ended the life of a young woman, who loved life, people and animals. She picked up stray puppies, loved children, had a radiant sunny smile and wanted to start a camp for mentally retarded and disabled children. A part of me was killed with her and I will never be the same again.”

Indeed, she will never be the same again. I guess all of you already know that.

ID-10072068But I would like to suggest to you tonight, something that might on its face seem crazy, something that at first may seem ridiculous, and something that might even seem offensive, hurtful or disrespectful to your loved one. Of course, I want you to know it is not any of those things, but it can be hard to hear at first. It can be hard to hear at first. It is this: You have been changed, but it just might be, it just might turn out later to be, that you have been changed for the better. In a profound triumph of life over death, of love over hate, of memory over malice, and of persistence over pain, your very presence here tonight at this time of remembrance of your loved one stolen from you by murder, shows that there is within you and even perhaps already upon you new qualities of life, new powers of humanity and compassion that have come into fruition because of the fire you have passed through, and live within every day. Like a hillside that has been ravaged and scorched by a terrible blaze, and later sees the slow return of living things, so the contours of your soul—shocked, burned and crumpled by the cruelest, ultimate unfairness—murder, may yet have given rise to the growth that a new and different season brings.

Now when I daresay that the changes you have endured and are enduring are ones that can be for the better I am not saying any of the following horrible, absurd ideas: the murder of your loved one has turned out to be okay, it’s all been for the best, or you’re glad it happened. None of those crazy thoughts are true at all. I know you would give anything and everything not to be here tonight and to have your loved on back. But because of your love for them, because of your living commitment to them, and because of your persistent declaration of their life and its everlasting beauty and value, the turning of time’s pages are seeing a new story written. The indescribable agony you experience as a survivor of homicide is being written as a part of the larger story of your transformed life. You are not defined by grief and victimization, but rather you are defined by the love you had and will always have for your murdered loved one. You are defined by the banner of their precious memory that you hold high every day, and you are defined by your affirmation that your love for them will never, ever dwindle or diminish one tiny bit, and that your pursuit of true justice for them and for your family will never stop. You are defined by your survivorship and by your glorious human victory over vengeance, for you are better than the barbarity you have seen.

The uniqueness of your epic loss and grief coupled with the courage you are showing as a survivor is empowering you to grow through grief, journeying through the storm to a shore that is different from where you were before. It’s not where you wanted to be, but there are aspects of this place that have their own unusual, secret beauty to them, a beauty known only to you, the survivors. What are these new and deeply human beauties? Well, they are hard to define precisely, they can only really be understood by people like you who are on this odyssey of sorrow. I can just describe what they look like:

–I once saw the mother of a murdered son greet a newly bereaved mother at a POMC meeting with a strong hug. She just hugged the sobbing mother, they silently hugged and cried together for a couple of minutes. Then she told the new mother, “I know what you’re feeling, only you and I can know what this is like.” She told the mother that her shock and dismay was normal and would last a long time, and that she should talk to other survivors—when she was ready, about what she was feeling. That was extraordinary sensitivity.

—I once saw the father of a murdered son tell the enraged and frustrated mother of a murdered child that she must not show emotion in the courtroom during the trial of her son’s murderer, because if she did, it could impair the case against the assailant on trial. It was not what the mother wanted to hear, but it was the hard truth she needed to hear. That was extraordinary compassion.

—I once saw the mother of a murdered daughter start and lead a chapter of Parents of Murdered Children, and work for years at developing the chapter into an ongoing resource for other relatives of homicide victims. Every month this incredible woman—permanently wounded by the rape and murder of her treasured daughter—would show up at the meetings, and lead discussions about terribly difficult topics and model for other survivors the uncommon strength and dignity that characterizes the people who lead and participate in chapters of POMC all across the country. That was exceptional courage.

Great sensitivity, great compassion and great courage, those are only three of the changes that took root in the burnt soil of the soul of survivors, but they were lovely in their ability to give hope to the hopeless, wisdom to the weary and strength to the suffering. It is amazing to think that a human being can be utterly devastated, and yet come back again and offer to others help, comfort, support, strength and guidance. And, all of those to an extraordinary extent, to a degree which they probably would not have been capable of, had their loss not been so great. Out of great suffering came great goodness.

ID-10055137Yes, in the survivors of homicide who gather here tonight we find heroes, heroes everywhere. Why heroes, because you have taken life’s hardest blow, the most powerful punch human wickedness can render, and you have stood back up, and you stand here still tonight. Perhaps before your life was changed by murder you didn’t think you were capable of being a hero, of doing great things. But not of your own choosing you have become someone new, and of your own choosing you have become someone extraordinary, someone who is now gifted in special new ways, special ways maybe not yet fully realized.

From the cocoon of a grief like no other you sit here this evening with new wings, a person inwardly more beautiful and more powerful than you know. And who knows where you will choose to fly from tonight, and who knows whose life you will enhance in a profound way, because of what you have become—and are becoming—changed and changing always in honor of that forever cherished someone for whom your love is supreme.

Chaplain Brad Stetson

Reduce Holiday Stress by Focusing on Realistic Expectations

Out guest blogger today is an award winning author who has some really good ideas on how to survive and work through your grief. Her words today are helpful and astute. We hope that her post helps you through this holiday season. ~ Charity Gallardo, Blog Coordinator.

holidaybibleThe holiday season tends to be stressful for all of us, yet when you’re grieving, the season is filled with even more anxiety.  A time that should bring joy may instead bring just the opposite.  One way to help you cope with the hustle and bustle of the season is to reduce holiday stress  by focusing on realistic expectations.

Our expectations—both positive and negative—tend to bring added stress to an already ‘emotionally charged’ time.  We try to do more than we can realistically handle; we expect everything to be perfect; we want everyone to be on their best behavior; we want each person we encounter to radiate the spirit of the season; and on and on.  These are completely unrealistic expectations, and we’re sure to be disappointed.

On top of the typical expectations, when you’re grieving, even more is going on in your heart and head.  You wonder how you’ll react (and how everyone else will respond) to the absence of your loved one.  You worry whether you’ll be able to make it through the day’s activities.  You may not be mentally or physically able to tackle your typical preparations.  You’re concerned about other people’s expectations for you.

Stop!  Let go of all your ‘shoulds.’  File them away for another time.

You have permission to realize (and admit) that this year will be a little different—and that it’s okay.   It’s all right if this year is more subdued.  It’s okay if you do less.  It’s okay if you talk about your loved one and shed a few tears.  It’s not only okay, but it’s much better if you don’t push yourself to do too much!  You can do more at a later date.  Right now, you’re only making changes for this year.  You can adjust again, if necessary.

Don’t try to make this year like all the rest.  Focus on relaxing, being thankful for what you still have, and finding small joys within the things you choose to do and the people you decide to spend time with.  Accept that you have permission to make choices about how you’ll celebrate.  You don’t have to be driven or bound by the choices of other people around you.  And be sure to make plans, however simple and low key they may be.  Don’t leave your plans up to chance.

christmasdogsI love this photo of the ‘Christmas  dogs.’ I smile whenever I see it!  Look for some things to bring a smile to your face.  You may feel insincere at first, but keep on trying!

Yes, this year may include inescapable feelings of pain and sorrow for you.  And this Christmas may be a far cry from Christmases past.  But you can make things easier on yourself—and it’s still possible to experience joy along with sadness.  Adjust your expectations and reduce your stress whenever and wherever possible.  Take control of your holidays instead of leaving details to chance, or letting the holidays (and other people) take control for you.

Judy Brizendine is an author, a blogger, and a speaker. She is committed to focusing attention on grief—and changing the way people view one of life’s toughest experiences everyone will face. Judy has written two books, STUNNED by Grief and STUNNED by Grief Journal. STUNNED by Grief  captured the Gold Medal for Nonfiction-Grief in the 2013 Readers’ Favorite International Awards, and both books received Award-Winning Finalist honors in their respective Self-Help categories in the “USA Best Books 2011” Awards, sponsored by USA Book News. STUNNED by Grief was named to Library Journal’s list of “Best Books 2011: Self-Help.”

Photo credit:  Photos courtesy of office.microsoft.com

Finding New Traditions

Deb Buehler is back today with a post most of us can relate to. When you’ve suffered the loss of a loved one, your family’s traditions with regard to holidays may change and new traditions may be introduced. Change is difficult and the loss of a loved one can impact many things you wouldn’t normally think about like family holiday traditions. Deb’s post helps bring this time of year into perspective by taking a look at incorporating new traditions that can help ease your loss. ~ Charity Gallardo, Blog Coordinator

SONY DSCThe holiday season is hard after the loss of a loved one. In fact, it can be downright difficult to come upon the holiday season and feel anything but loss magnified. The holidays can be an uprooted, ungrounded, lonely time. Traditions feel empty, sticky or even impossible to approach – and families feel small and hollowed out by their loss.

I imagine the cold, dark evening when Mary and Joseph arrive in Bethlehem – expectant with the anticipation of a new baby and no family with open arms and a warm meal to welcome them. Even the inn is full and there is no room.  How challenging to be without a sense of home when they (and all of us as we travel through loss) are in most need of one.

It is this same rootlessness with which I’ve moved through the holidays since the death of my parents. Some seasons I’ve felt far from the welcome of family with open arms and a warm meal. I’ve even looked at my own home as if it were that stable; a cheerless place absent of people I love.

While grief can make my home feel like that stable, there is also the reality of my own warm hearth, hearty meals waiting, and the loving support of my husband reaching into my sadness. Together we’ve had to find new ways to “do” the holidays.

This has meant looking a little harder for what is important now. Asking, trying, testing, stumbling along, sometimes getting part of it right, sometimes not. Slowly, slowly we’ve turned the anticipation of the Advent season into a journey of our own – seeking out what it is we want to keep, letting go of things that don’t hold particular meaning for us.

It hasn’t been easy. In fact, some things we’ve tried have bombed completely. And other times, we’ve found hints of what we want it to look like; the shape we want our holidays to be now.

Sunburst in snowy Spruce ForestLike Joseph and Mary, we’ve been helped by strangers unawares; the couple who sell Christmas trees on a rural Indiana farm where we’ve gone and cut our own tree on the bitterest cold days. Each journey through the countryside has felt a little bit like building a new connection – a small, joyful glimmer of a tradition found.

A friend told us about a university near here that hosts a community night of holiday music through their music school. The first year we were blown away by the extensive talent and enthusiasm while being touched by something that felt old and familiar too.

And, we’ve traveled for more than one Christmas – once enjoying the company of strangers from all over the world gathered around the massive fireplace in Curry Village, Yosemite National Park. Even though we were all far from home and didn’t know one another there was a simple sense of companionship as we sat by a crackling fire.

Like Joseph and Mary, we’ve had to look beyond the straw, the dusty barn interior, the sweet scent of animals, had to open our hearts to the loneliness, doubt and fear only to discover that God is always creating new beginnings in ways we could never imagine.

Deb Buehler is a professional writer who co-authored the book The Hollowed Heart: Inspiration for Women Awakening from Grief and Loss. She is also a creative grief coach working with individuals who are actively on the path of wholehearted living after loss. To learn more about Deb visit www.thesweetestwords.com.

Images courtesy stock.xchng.